Volume , Number 0
Silja j.a. Talvi
Silja j.a. Talvi
Stephen R. Shalom
Nonviolence Versus Capitalism
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Trajectory of Change
Jan knippers Black
Eleanor J. Bader
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Independence For East Timor?
The first time East Timor declared its independence, after Portuguese colonizers withdrew in l974, it was immediately overrun by Indonesian troops. Their occupation, until 1999, wiped out a third of the population, but not the independence movement. In the 1999 UN-sponsored referendum, the vote for independence was overwhelming; but the Indonesian armed forces and their militias voted with their weapons, leaving thousands dead, hundreds of thousands displaced, and the built environmentcities and villages alikein ruins.
Mercifully, elections for a constituent assembly that took place on August 30, 2001, after a period of United Nations tutelage, were peaceful, even festive, passing leadership to Fretilin, the party perceived as representing the independence movement. Following the adoption of a constitution in March 2002, presidential elections on April 14 gave resounding victory to poet-cum-guerrilla leader- cum-statesperson Jose Xanana Gusmao. He was inaugurated on May 20, as the United Nations withdrew from a two and one-half year stint of transitional administration.
Gotcha School of Politics
When the East Timorese returned to the polls on August 30, 2001, there was a great deal at stake, not only for the indigenous people who had fought so hard and sacrificed so much in pursuit of independence, but also for the United Nations (UN) and the international aid community. The UN, usually the most authoritative of elections monitors, was this time around the governing body whose performance was to be judged. With respect to East Timor, the UN had a badly blotted copybook to clean up.
Most East Timorese have yet to recover from the aftermath of the 1999 referendum. Those able to escape their burning homes with families intact and find hiding places in the mountains were the lucky ones. Many families were torn asunder when the Indonesian occupation forces entrusted with security for the elections followed through on their threats of retaliation against proponents of independence. Some 1,600 of the children separated then from their parents remain separated.
Colonized by Portugal for more than 300 years, East Timor, half of a lush and balmy South Pacific island, had enjoyed a whiff of independence when Portugal, undergoing its own revolution, withdrew in 1974. But with the blessings of U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Indonesia, already controlling the western half of the island, launched a full-scale invasion of the Eastern portion in 1975. Neither the UN nor its member states ever formally recognized Indonesian sovereignty there; but no foreign entity mounted resistance when Indonesian forces unleashed a campaign of genocide.
Some 200,000 people, a third of the pre-invasion population, were killed over the quarter-century of occupation; survivors fought harder than ever for liberation. After President Suharto was forced out of office in 1998, the successor government of B.J. Habibie permitted the UN to conduct a referendum to choose between independence and integration, as a autonomous province, into Indonesia.
Despite threats and acts of violence (between 3,000 and 5,000 were killed in the months preceding the election) by Indonesian security forces, voter turnout exceeded 98 percent, and more than 78 percent of the voters opted for independence. Punishment was swift. U.S.-trained Indonesian special forces and their East Timorese militiassupposedly safeguarding voters and election resultsran amuck, killing another 2,000. About 250,000 were driven forcibly to camps under militia control across the border in Indonesian West Timor. Towns and villages were leveled, properties plundered, homes and crops burned, cattle rustled or slaughtered, irrigation systems ruined. The capital, Dili, was rendered a ghost town, with hardly a public building left standing. In the country as a whole, some 75 percent of the buildings were destroyed.
Once again the UN and the international community fiddled while East Timor burned. Only Australia was willing to talk about dispatching troops, and then only with U.S. clearance, which was slow to come. When the Clinton administration finally announced its decision to cut off military assistance, Indonesian forces started to withdraw. It was not until October, however, when the smoke had cleared and the territorys physical infrastructure had been utterly demolished, that the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET) was established and reconstruction began.
At least until the elections of 2001, the Indonesian military continued from time to time to rearm militias and filter them over the border to stir up trouble. More than 60,000 East Timorese are still being held hostage in refugee camps over the border in West Timor in squalid conditions, unmonitored since September 2000. Following the murder at that time of three of its employees serving in the camps, the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) withdrew all of its personnel. Even so, the UNHCR feels obliged to stave off starvation in the camps, so it continues to supply essentials, knowing that it is supplying the militias as well, giving the militias further incentive to hold hostages as an insurance policy.
Few of the East Timorese with whom I spoke during the run-up to the elections of 2001 were prepared to dismiss lightly the worst-case scenarios of plotting by Indonesian special forces and the militias. Election planners and monitors had to be mindful as well of a smorgasbord of reliable means of disrupting and corrupting elections employed elsewhere in the underdeveloped and overdeveloped world, many of which could be especially tempting in the Timorese context. Mimicking of the names, flags, or logos of more popular parties, for example, can spread confusion and deceit in any electorate and could be particularly befuddling in East Timor where 60 percent of the population is illiterate. Nationalists suspected the chicanery of Indonesian intelligence and its local allies in the appearance of new parties whose emblems might be mistaken for those of Fretilin, with which most of the population identifies.
Elections are also prone to attract money or violence or both, as the East Timorese know all too well. The staging of elections in a society just emerging from conflict is risky, as it can be expected either to intensify polarization or to generate schisms where the unity forged by struggle remains crucial to national reconstruction or decision-making autonomy.
For the most part, though, Timorese social activists focused on more immediate problems and challenges. Voter registration, in which UN volunteers assumed a major role, was an awesome task where homes and villages had been destroyed and residents dispersed. Voter education was also a formidable undertaking. The punishing experience of 1999 was this electorates first exposure to the process since 1975; and the objective in 2001 was different and more complex. They were to elect delegates, representing an array of new parties, to an assembly tasked with drawing up a constitution. Polls had shown that few outside of Dili understood fully what the elections were about. Most seemed to think they would be electing a president.
The UN transitional authority was just beginning a couple of months before the election to send educators into the countryside to teach local trainers about electoral processes and the choices voters were to make. Local non-governmental organizations had expressed concern that this election represented a rush to judgement. Though other rationales were floated, premature scheduling of elections appeared to be the main reason Xanana Gusmao had withdrawn in June from the National Council, the consultative body representing the indigenous population within the UNTAET structure.
As it happened, voter turnout, 91 percent in August 2001 for the election for the Constituent Assembly, which has become the countrys first parliament, and 86 percent for the presidential election in April 2002, did not match the stunning 98 percent in 1999, when voters knew they were putting lives and livelihoods at risk. But neophyte East Timorese voters put to shame the phantom half of the U.S. electorate, who can scarcely be bothered to turn out for a presidential election and a U.S. political elite disinclined to offer enough choice to lure them out.
No Security Without Truth
As East Timors new policy-makers gear up for the road ahead, weighing needs against resources and options, they may come to feel that carrying out elections and fashioning political institutions was the easy part of birthing a new nation. To begin with, theres the matter of accountability for the atrocities of the past quarter-century. Security concerns are heightened by the Bush administrations push to lift legislative restrictions on U.S. military aid to Indonesia.
As noted by the countrys highly respected human rights organization, Yayasan Hak, East Timor has finally come back around to where it was 27 years agothat is, to the independence to which it was then entitled. They are not likely to feel secure in their hard-won independence so long as there are no effective international institutions to lift the impunity of those responsible for the heinous crimes committed against them.
The newly established International Criminal Court, to begin hearing cases next year in The Hague, would have been the appropriate body, but it had no jurisdiction to deal with crimes committed before its governing treaty came into effect on July 1, 2002. Neither the UNTAETs serious crimes unit nor the East Timorese truth and reconciliation commission is empowered to look beyond the new countrys borders in pursuit of commanders and masterminds of mass violence and destruction. An ad hoc tribunal that finally began work in Jakarta in March has brought charges against lesser officials but is not expected to reach into the Indonesian militarys high command.
Thus East Timorese nationalists continue to call for the establishment of an international tribunal, as authorized in January 2000 by the UN International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor. The UN should remain committed to the creation of such a tribunal if only to clarify events and to learn from its own monumental failure in 1999 to protect a vulnerable people and an electoral process for which it had assumed responsibility. For the East Timorese the absence of such a tribunal means that conflict perpetrated by Indonesia will remain quarantined in East Timor. Uninterred anger will remain focused on local collaborators, rank-and-file militia, delaying social healing and clouding prospects for much-needed community solidarity.
The centrifugal forces to be expected in post-revolutionary contexts have also begun to take their toll on the nationalist coalition. The Church that so strongly supported liberation for the overwhelmingly Catholic East Timorese was not prepared to condone the full range of liberties that women who fought and sacrificed so much now demand. Language differences that were surmountable in the face of a common enemy begin to divide cultures and generations when education policy is at issue. There is no serious lack of an educated elite, but those attending local schools before 1975 speak Portuguese, while those educated since learned Bahasa Indonesia. Eighty-five percent of the population speaks one of the two dozen indigenous languages. Even dialects of the predominant Tetum vary greatly among regions and from rural to urban areas. There is rising demand on all sides to learn English, the de facto language of UN tutelage.
Self-Rule on a Shoestring
Only skeletal remainspeacekeeping forces, civilian police, a serious crimes unit, and some international civil servants will testify over the next few years to what has been the UNs first experience in direct territorial rule. For many East Timorese, the departure of the UN comes none too soon. Already they had seen the development of a full-blown dual economy, with prices in Dili geared to the pay scales of international organizations.
The UN has accomplished a great deal in the way of resurrecting physical infrastructure, but considerably less in the provision of social services and safety nets. Even with respect to such basic services as maintenance of law and ordere.g., policing and prison managementUNTAET was not always mindful of the requirements of due process and other individual protections found in international law. Compounding the frustrations of independence leaders, the UN adhered to a strategy of limiting the role of government and the levels of local wages, set at a fraction of those of their foreign counterparts. Meanwhile, international financial institutions seemed to be looking, mostly in vain, for operations or resources to privatize and to be pushing loans to a government-in-waiting committed to avoiding the debt trap.
For all their good intentions, the UN bureaucrats and their counterparts from the World Bank and other donor agencies were running this unique experiment in nation-building in accordance with the only real world model they know: colonialism. To be sure there are mountains of paper attesting to consultation with local leaders and to grassroots organizational efforts. There are a great many young people serving the intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations who are well trained in bottom-up, participatory approaches to development and fully committed to the well-being of the East Timorese.
There are also a great many well-educated, experienced, sophisticated, and public-spirited East Timorese serving in political roles as well as in more than 200 local NGOs. But for the most part international bureaucrats and local leaders have failed to connect. Those who invested so much in the dream of independence have been fearful that by the time an indigenous government was in place the most crucial decisions would have been made and their mantle of office would be a straitjacket.
It should be noted that for the East Timorese and other peoples who must avail themselves of the services of the United Nations, the organizations overriding problem is not its arrogance but its weakness. In East Timor as elsewhere, the UN has been handicapped by the ad hoc nature of its funding. Most operations are funded by a limited number of national donors, who may assume a proprietary sort of interest in the manner in which the program is designed and managed. It is pointless, then, to blame the UN, as such, for its shortcomings. It could scarcely be expected to fulfill its mandates effectively without more clout, which would in the first place require more adequate funding as well as programmatic autonomyreal, not just nominal, independence from funding sources.
The East Timorese are hopeful that Timor Gap petroleum reserves, shared with Australia, will help to float the economy in a few years. In the meantime, though, the new country faces an unemployment rate estimated at 80 percent, a per capita GNP of about $340, a life expectancy of 57 years, an infant mortality rate of 135 per 1,000 live births, and maternal mortality twice as high as the norm in neighboring states.
Emerging from centuries of colonialism and occupation, the East Timorese have been advised by a parade of consultants, representing inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations, multinational corporations, and overdeveloped states on how to deal with the challenges of independence in the 21st century. But most of us who are so ready to advise hail from states where electoral credibility and independence-as-popular-sovereignty are fast eroding and where 21st century technology camouflages a return to 19th century social relations.
Even the richest of states are unable now to tax or regulate the money-moversmultinational banks and corporationsso as to support an adequate social welfare system. Livelihoods and ecosystems everywhere are rendered more vulnerable by the subversive potential of a trillion or more dollars sloshing around in cyberspace on any day looking for quick and dirty ways to reproduce.
In order to limit the mobility of money or to globalize the popular regulation of it, social activists need new paradigms and more effective strategies and organizations. Perhaps in this endeavor the East Timorese have more to teach than we. In their struggles against all odds, they have learned that each-against-all individualism reaps only a nothing-left-to-lose kind of freedom; that security can only be collective; and that security lies ultimately in the symbiosis and mutual commitments of a just community. Z
Jan Knippers Black is a professor at the Graduate School of International Policy Studies of the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California. She has published 11 books on international politics and development.